Panorama, BBC 1, BBCiPlayer, editor Rachel Jupp.
Civil War in Syria has lasted seven years, around 13 million of its citizens have been displaced and the refugee crisis in Europe has led to a right-wing orchestrated backlash against those who dare to cross borders and not die quietly at home.
Bashar Al-Assad the President of Syria was never meant to be in the position of leadership, never meant to be a mass murderer of around half a million of his people, never meant to sanction the use of barrel bombs, low-tech chlorine and high-tech Sarin chemical weapons against men, women and children, in the city of Idib, targeting hospitals – and then of course, deny it. He was never cut out to be a war criminal that should be charged under the 1949 Geneva Convention for crimes against humanity.
Bashar Al-Assad was destined to be a run-of-the mill eye-doctor who trained at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London. A largely forgotten figure outside his own country, where his father Hafez was a conventional Middle-East dictator with a billion pound sea-front property in which to bring up his five children. A pragmatic man who seized power in a 1970 army coup d’etat and intended to keep it by whatever means necessary, which included bombing and killing up to 20 000 of his own citizens in Homs and jailing and torturing many others.
Not surprisingly, when the Arab Spring flooded the Middle East in 2011, Homs home of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni Muslims was anti-Assad. Again unarmed civilians were murdered and tortured, prisoners in Syria’s largest prison massacred.
Watch what seems ancient footage of newly trained recruits stabbing puppies as a mark of loyalty to President Hafez, but they had it easy, female soldiers had to bite the heads off live snakes. But Hafez also saw off Israeli advances in Lebanon, a state he kept firmly in his grip as a satellite and he lived long enough to see off six elected American Presidents.
Bashar’s eldest brother Bassel was in line to take over from Hafez. He showed the right credentials. When a fellow army officer in a horse-riding event, for example, beat Bassel in an equestrian championship he was arrested. It doesn’t tell you what happened to him next, but we can guess. Bassel also liked fast cars and that’s what killed him.
Hafez had to decide who to pass his crown to, his daughter, of course, was ruled out for being the wrong gender. We can take the script from a cross between the Corleone family in The Godfather and King Lear, ‘nothing will come of nothing’. Quietly spoken Bashar comes from nothing to lead the family when his father dies, but he has married wisely and married well, Asma’s Lady Macbeth and would-be first lady of Syria, but supermodels herself on Lady Di.
Fast forward to 2013, millions fleeing Syria, the advance of Islamic State and Bashar’s family only controlling 14% of Syria, and the rebels three miles from his presidential palace. One word: PUTIN.
Poems for Refugees (2002) edited by Pippa Haywood.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) The Second Coming.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosened and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction; while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity